Florida's voter purge: Discriminatory?

The Sunshine State is pulling out the stops to prevent non-citizens from voting, but critics say it's all an excuse to suppress the perfectly legal minority vote

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is on a mission to prevent non-citizens from voting, but the information he is using to target potential frauds may be inaccurate.
(Image credit: James Leynse/Corbis)

Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, has launched a statewide initiative to cleanse voter rolls of non-citizens, in what he claims is an attempt to prevent electoral fraud. Democrats and Latino groups are calling foul, arguing that Scott is targeting minorities and the poor in an attempt to prevent them from reaching the ballot box. The issue could wind up being critical to the presidential race, as Florida is one of the nation's most hotly contested battleground states. (In 2000, a heavily disputed 537 votes gave the presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore.) Here, a guide to the Florida voter purge that many are calling "discriminatory":

How is Scott weeding out non-citizens?

Scott instructed Florida officials to target any registered voter who did not provide proof of citizenship when he applied for his driver's license. Targeted voters were sent a notification demanding that they prove their citizenship to the state. The problem is that the records from the DMV are outdated and full of inaccuracies. Plus, many immigrants obtained citizenship after securing a driver's license.

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How many people have been targeted?

Scott's administration initially claimed that 180,000 people in Florida were possible non-citizens. That number was eventually reduced to about 2,700. So far, only 10 people have admitted they are actually not American citizens. About 58 percent of the people on the list of targeted voters are Latino, and 14 percent are black. Also among the targeted: Bill Internicola, a 91-year-old veteran of World War II who had to provide the state government with his Army discharge papers.

Is voter fraud a big problem in the U.S.?

Not really. Republican leaders in Florida "want to 'prevent' a problem that there's no evidence even exists," says The Miami Herald in an editorial. According to studies, incidents of voter fraud in the U.S. are "ridiculously low" and "extremely rare," says Leonard Pitts Jr. at The Miami Herald.

Is the voter purge legal?

Maybe not. The Justice Department has warned Florida that it might be violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires certain areas of Florida to receive federal approval before changing voter rolls. In addition, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act bans states from scrubbing rolls 90 days before an election, and Florida is set to hold primaries for state and congressional elections in August, meaning it should have stopped the purge on May 16. Last week, the state's elections supervisors said they would no longer follow Scott's order to clean the rolls.

What do critics say?

They contend that Scott is trying to tilt elections in the GOP's favor, since minorities and poorer voters tend to vote Democratic. "Rather than work to broaden the party's appeal, some GOP leaders have chosen instead to narrow the other party's base," says Pitts. Internicola went to the trouble to prove his citizenship, but most people are not going to make the effort to overcome the obstacles "placed between them and the polling place." That "is the whole idea" behind the purge.

Sources: The Miami Herald (2) (3), The New York Times, Palm Beach Post, Reuters

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